(The Henna Painting Problem)
A has more friends in this one city in Texas
than M has all around the world.
M has definitely had more lovers
than A--who’s never had any.
By the time M returns from the bathroom
scrubbed clean of perfume and hand cream
A has set the mood, playing henna songs--
marriage songs from Bollywood movies--
and the makeshift implements are laid
surgically precise across the dining table
M is amused and touched
(extremely touched, but more amused)
she teases, A feints, fakes offense, parries
the old cantankerous plays of their childhood.
So A and M set to work with the henna
Dusty green, fragrant with eucalyptus;
tangy with gathered body salt
But it’s nostalgia that paints their tone
moments of melancholy for distant bits of the family
with peculiar crises and erratic disenchantments
and wistfulness for communal village celebrations
Their own marriages were way too cosmopolitan
(but then again they’ve seen way too many movies).
All the while, the music trips blithely about
euphoric families, faithful husbands
Jingles about henna running earnest as blood.
Perhaps it really is someone’s true reality
but it sounds naive somehow
and they catch sight of their cynicism
Amidst it all--lying there somewhere secretly
like the single silver hair in A’s shiny fastness
at their woeful attempts at art
they should be talking about their lives
but this task grabs all their attention
and besides they already know everything
have trodden the constant paths of conversation
can predict their terrain of talk better than Mapquest
know how to track back when they inevitably get lost
Two sisters A and M:
Worried for the sheets,
A removes her henna before she goes to bed
and sleeps fitfully, thoughts tossing her around;
M keeps the henna on and sleeps soundly, arms
stretched out as if in supplication.
Nevertheless, in the morning
A’s henna is still darker than M’s.
They’re not even sure if they heard it from an old female relative
of theirs or an old female relative of someone in the movies
--that the darker the henna dyes your hand, the deeper the love
of your husband. Or lover.
It doesn’t mean anything,
it’s just about body heat,
M pulls a face
but is secretly glad
as though the henna were
a magic telegram spelling out
her recently estranged brother-in-law’s intent.
A will drive to the airport;
M’s plane is this morning.
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